A friend told me the other day that he was unfamiliar with the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. I was horrified, and promised to offer some quatrains here. It is too long of course to quote anything but small fragments, and too Victorian fussy to appeal to modern tastes. But that is Fitzgerald, not Omar Khayyam, and looking through the facile verse, which has an easy charm, you can see the central Asian scholar and thinker of eight centuries earlier. You might even be moved to read the novel Samarkand by Amin Maloof, which is a very different, but quite entrancing view of the poet.
Here are some of my favourite quatrains, and some of the most famous - but there are more, many more!
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.
But come with old Khayyam, and leave the
Of Kaikobad and Kaikhosru forgot!
Let Rustum lay about him as he will,
Or Hatim Tai cry Supper - heed them not.
With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan scarce is known,
And pity Sultan Mahmud on his Throne.
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
And Wilderness is
They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep;
And Bahram, that great Hunter - the Wild Ass
Stamps o'er his Head, and he lies fast asleep.
While the Rose blows along the River Brink,
With old Khayyam the Ruby Vintage drink:
And when the Angel with his darker Draught
Draws up to Thee - take that, and do not shrink.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.